The first draft came out to just over 2500 words, a full thousand more than the rules for the Clever Fiction challenge allowed. Now I am willing to cut things out to get under the word limit: kill my darlings, eliminate all the bits where I was trying to be clever, all that good stuff. I am not, however, willing to just toss out half a story.
So I decided to do two versions of Liza: an abridged version that fit within the requirements for the Freedom challenge, and a full out version, an "Author's Cut", which is what you get here.
This version comes in at about 3300 words.
Liza the Persistent
by Void Munashii
In the before time the island city now known as Draal’s Claim was a bustling metropolis, and while it was largely spared the immediate annihilation of the old world, that stay of execution ended when Draal, the copper dragon claimed it as his own.
Towering above the rest of the buildings on the island is what the before people would have called a skyscraper. There were many such buildings when Draal first took the island, but he had the others destroyed so that his tower would be the tallest, and be visible for everywhere in his keep.
Draal is not a particularly strong dragon, not as dragons go. In fact, for a dragon, he is lazy and stupid, but he is charismatic to humans. The copper dragon has convinced many to bow down to him willingly; convincing them that the problems they have stem from those who do not worship him, and those from other lands. His followers are known to deal with any who openly oppose the dragon’s rule swiftly and brutally.
Still, a large but quiet group of resistors has always existed. Men and women who detest Draal, his rule, and his greed. They hate him for sitting on a hoard of gold atop his high tower while his subjects live in poverty. They hate his thuggish, bloodthirsty worshippers, and most of all they hate how how powerless to do anything about it they are.
Liza the Persistent does not suffer from this sense of powerlessness.
Liza was born to parents who were a part of the resistance. It cost them their lives when Liza was just six, and it was on the day that they were brutally slaughtered by Draal’s worshippers that she vowed to slay the copper dragon.
This was foolish, she was warned. It was explained to her that this could only end in her death.
Nevertheless, she persisted.
Liza had earned her name and reputation as a mercenary during her teens. She may not have been the bravest or best fighter, she may not have been the most clever or skilled tactician, but like a rushing river, she never gave up, and eventually even the sturdiest of stone, the toughest goal, would fall before her.
“Are we ready?” Liza asks into the microphone hidden in her collar.
“We have eyes on,” Click responds, “but it’s not too late to call this off, Liza. Once you go in… we’ll make sure no one comes in after you, but you are on your own in there. Fifty-eight floors is a long way to go on your own.”
“That’s what elevators are for. You just make sure that they can’t get reinforcements, and I’ll be good.”
“We’ll watch your six.”
Looking up at the buildings surrounding Draal’s tower, none now any taller than ten floors, she can not see her crew, but she knows that behind those glassless windows there are men and women with rifles ready to take out anyone who tries to enter the building after her.
Liza pulls her visor down over her eyes, sets it to thermal imaging mode, and begins her approach, crossing the street, keeping her face down so that the hood of her cloak hides it in shadow.
“Razz, status?” Liza asks
“Just waiting for your word,” the woman’s voice responds in her earpiece, “I have security, the lifts, and the power all under my control.”
“As soon as I am inside, lock everything down except for the elevator.”
“Express straight to the dragon’s lair,” Razz responds, “You don’t need to do this, you know?”
“You’re not going to sway me from this.”
The security outside of Draal’s tower is light, just two armour clad guards holding automatic rifles. Their metal chest plates are emblazoned with the word “DRAAL” in capital block copper letters, and their helmets simply have the letter “D” on each side in the same font.
There is no need for heavy defenses at the door of the building because no one would dare try to attack it. That’s part of why it is the only building in the area to still have glass in all of its windows.
The guards don’t even bother raising their weapons as the hooded figure approaches.
“Halt, sir,” says one of the guards, “What is your busin-,” there’s a cracking noise, and the guard collapses as a bullet easily pierces the soft copper of the “L” in “DRAAL”, and makes its way through the guard’s heart.
The second guard turns to look at his fallen partner, but before he can open his mouth, there is another crack and he too falls to the ground.
Liza strides past the dead guards, under the arch of copper coloured metal, and through one of the revolving doors.
The lights in the lobby go off, and an alarm sounds.
“Building is in lockdown. Everything’s sealed up tight, you just need to make it to the lift.”
The woman at the reception desk in front of the bank of elevators doesn’t immediately notice Liza’s approach, as she is too busy hitting buttons on her now useless keyboard as if she beleives one of them will make the screen come back on. The four armoured guards that had been standing in front of the lift doors move towards the receptionist to see if they can aid her. Liza is firing the guns previously hidden by the sleeves of her robe before anyone even sees her coming.
The muffled cracks of the silenced pistols are still quite loud in the large, quiet lobby. Five cracks, five headshots, five bodies hit the floor.
Part of her, a very small part, feels a moment of sorrow for the people she has just killed, particularly for the receptionist, a non-combatant. She quickly puts that aside. Had the Draal worshippers felt any remorse for her parents when they butchered them?
“I’m coming up on the lift,” Liza says.
The light over one of the elevators comes on with a soft ding, “Your chariot awaits, milady,” Razz says.
Without breaking stride, Liza continues walking towards the opening lift doors, and steps inside.
“They know their system is compromised,” Razz says, “They are trying to regain control. They’re going to start breaking down doors soon.”
“Can they stop the lift?”
“No, but they’ll probably be waiting for you at the top. I can still turn that car around and t-”
“Stop!” Liza commands, silencing the hacker.
During the elevator ride, Liza reloads her pistols, and readies herself. She is pleased to see that her research on these elevators was accurate; had she been wrong, this next part would be more difficult.
The lift bell dings as it reaches the penthouse level, floor 58. The doors open and six armoured guards stand waiting, all aiming automatic rifles into the elevator car.
The apparently empty elevator car; empty except for a box stuck to the back wall of the elevator. A guard leans in to get a closer look at the box. There are words printed on it:
“Front Toward Enemy”
There is a flash and 700 steel balls erupt from the box, tearing apart the inquisitive guard like a blood-filled water balloon, ripping holes in the front of the elevator car and the wall of the lift shaft, and knocking down the rest of the assembled guards. Liza can hear the balls patter on the floor as they land, their energy spent, and roll.
Liza drops down from the elevator car’s ceiling hatch, and steps onto the top floor of Draal’s Tower. Some of the guards are moaning in pain and writhing on the floor in spreading puddles of their own blood. She doesn’t stop to see which ones are moaning, which ones are already dead, and which ones are faking death in hopes of surviving; she shoots each in the head to make sure.
“What is going on out there?” she hears Draal’s voice boom. She recognizes the voice from his appearances on television, “Guards! Guards!”
“Back-up is on scene,” Click says in Liza’s ear, “we are engaging.”
Liza cannot hear the one-sided firefight going on down at street level, but she can make out other panicked voices elsewhere on this floor.
Even over the smoke and blood Liza can smell Draal; his smell permeates the floor. She steels herself for the culmination of her life’s work. This is the moment when her persistence will pay off. It is time
Footsteps are pounding towards her. Liza ducks into a room that turns out to be a kitchen. The space is dominated by a walk-in refrigerator, but there are also preperation tables and a sink. There is no need for a stove since Draal is known to prefer his meals bloody, if not actually still breathing.
The guards run past the kitchen, heading for the elevator; they don’t even bother looking in. Liza steps out behind them, and starts shooting with both pistols. She aims for the back of their legs since they are unarmoured.
One of the guards manages to turn and fire off a couple of shots as he falls, Liza feels the wind from it as it barely misses her cheek. She ducks back into the kitchen, and tosses out a small hand grenade.
The grenade’s explosion almost completely drowns out the shouts of the guards. Liza uses the smoke for cover to escape before any survivors start shooting. She reloads as she jogs towards her target.
She can see Draal, or his heat signature at least. At first just a floating ball of orange and red that is the heat from his mouth, but as she crosses the floor his form takes shape on her visor. Even if she could not see his body heat, she could certainly hear his giving orders. Liza is not sure that he is actually giving orders to anyone until she is right outside the large corner suite that he is inside with a dozen people.
“This is it,” Liza whispers, mostly to herself, but she has her mic on when she does it.
“Good,” Click says,” things are getting a little hairy out here, they’ve brought in trolls.”
“The door is open for you,” says Razz, “but be aware that there are breaches all over the building. Once they get into the stairwell, there won’t be much I can do to stop them.”
“Thanks guys,” says Liza as she produces a pair of small metal canisters from within her robe. She pulls the pins on them, opens the door to Draal’s suite a crack, and tosses them in.
Liza turns her back on Draal’s lair so that the heat from the flashbangs doesn’t dazzle her thermal imaging visor, but she still sees the light from the flashbangs coming through the gap under the door when they detonate.
Liza pulls her guns, throws the doors open, and charges in, dodging to the right as a couple of the blinded guards begin firing their automatic rifles blindly at the doorway.
These guards are a little easier to hit that the ones she dealt with before. They wear suits instead of metal armour, and the vests they wear under their clothes cover less of their lower throat area that their less fashionable counterparts. It doesn’t hurt that they are staggering around blindly either.
Soon all that remains standing is the young woman and the old dragon.
Draal, his copper skin shining in the sunlight streaming in through the skylights looks down at her from atop a bed of gold coins, bars, and jewelry. His gut his huge, something they always manage to shoot around on TV; Liza wonders if his wings will even support him in the air anymore.
“You are a sad, pathetic creature,” the dragon says, “You may have killed my people; brave people who you have taken from their families-”
“Collaborators,” Liza spits, “Traitors to humanity.”
“But you think you can kill me with those pitiful guns? Did you do no research at all?”
“The guns aren’t for you,” Liza says, tossing them away.
Liza shrugs off her robe, revealing black coveralls, a belt with three grenades and two more flashbangs dangling from him, a pair of empty holsters and loops for extra magazines (only two magazines remain), a small backpack, and the handles of a pair of short swords sticking out from the small of her back.
Liza pulls the swords, they gleam with magical light, ”These are for you!”
Draal rears back at the sight of the swords, and exhales a stream of liquid fire at the small woman.
Liza runs forward, under the stream of fire as her discarded robe and the floor she was standing on are scorched. She slashes at the dragon’s bulbous gut with her blades, slicing through his flesh so that his crimson blood flows out.
Draal roars at pain he has likely never before felt and kicks at Liza, sending her flying.
In a controlled panic, Liza extends her right arm, and fires her wrist grapple towards the room’s glass ceiling. The small dart punches through the thick glass, and catches against the hole. Liza’s shoulder sends a protest of pain as her momentum is redirected at the end of the grapple line. Instead of flying towards the wall, now she swings up towards the glass ceiling.
The dragon is slow from his years of sedentary lifestyle, and when he whips his head to try and snap her out of the air in his powerful jaws he misses her completely, but instead catches her grapple line with his neck. Liza’s shoulder again screams pain at her as she is yanked down and under the dragon.
She tries to strike at the dragon’s throat as she swings under it, but at the speed she is moving, it is all she can do just to keep a hold of her swords. She arks up on the other side of Draal, and comes down between where his wings meet his back. She drives the sword in her left hand into the creature’s shoulder, anchoring her in place as the sluggish beast tries to throw her off.
Liza can feel Draal tense under her, and suddenly he extends his wings, smashing out the windows to his left. The dragon leaps upwards, and Liza tucks her head down as the copper coloured monster smashes through the glass ceiling and into the air. A glittering rain of broken glass and pieces of gold shower down on the streets below where the remaining members of the guards that responded to the attack are hiding behind their cars to keep from being picked off by Click and his snipers.
The fat, lazy dragon takes gracelessly to the sky, flying over his city, jerking to the left and right, dropping and gaining altitude as it tries to shake the persistent human free. She merely drives the sword into her right hand into his back to steady herself.
“You are a pathetic, ugly girl,” the dragon roars, and starts to climb higher in the air to where the air is thinner, “You will fail!”
Liza, seeing the city grow smaller below her, realizes that she has to finish this before they get so high up that she passes out.. She pulls one sword free from Draal’s back, and stabs it in again farther up towards the back of his neck. She then pulls the other sword free and does the same.
Hand over hand, sword over sword, Liza climbs up the back of the dragon’s thick neck. By the time she reaches Draal’s head she is covered in his blood. She is becoming lightheaded from the altitude, and having trouble getting enough air. She wonders how much blood a dragon has to lose before it passes out.
“Just give up,” Draal says, “Maybe I won’t kill everyone you have ever known if you give up now.
“Never!” cries Liza as she straddles Draal’s neck like a cowboy riding a bull. With her left blade dug in deep with, she begins to hack at the back of the dragon’s neck with her right.
A normal sword would never be able to penetrate the dragon’s tough scale and bones, let alone behead the beast, but Liza’s blade severs the spinal column on her third strike, causing Draal’s body to become paralyzed. The two begin to drop from the sky like cloth wrapped stone, Draal’s wings flapping uselessly in the wind.
Liza shreiks as she brings the sword down a third time, then a fourth, severing the dragon's head completely. The spraying blood from Draal’s body pushes the head away as they freefall back towards the city.
Her mission accomplished, Liza pulls her sword free from the headless neck, and kicks off and away from the monster’s body. She feels something tug firmly at her right arm.
Looking at the source of the pull, Liza sees the gauntlet of her wrist grapple, its line trailing over to where it is still wrapped around Draal’s neck.
“Xcrete!” Liza cries. She strikes the grapple-line with the magic sword, but the ultra fine, magically enhanced line is tougher than even dragon scale; that’s actually part of the current advertising campaign for it.
She tumbles through the air, still tethered to a dead dragon, the city rushing up to meet her.
Liza slides the gore-covered blade between her arm and the grapple-gauntlet. The gauntlet slices like paper, as does the flesh on the top of her forearm. She pulls her arm free from the gauntlet, slides the swords into the sheaths at the base of her spine, and pulls a cord on the strap of her backpack. A flap opens, and a patchwork of fabric billows out into the shape of a simple parachute.
The rapid reduction in speed is jarring, but much less so than the was the ground would have slowed her down.
From this height, Liza realizes how beautiful her city is; how it still looks a lot like the picture she has seen of it from the before time. She thinks about this while she digs a roll of binding tape out her her pocket. She has brought it in case she needed to tie anyone up, but it will serve to close the gash on her arm until she can get it stitched and healed properly.
Liza takes a moment to wonder if she can catch anything from the dragon blood on her sword getting into the cut on her arm.
Her wandering mind is brought back into focus by the sight of Draal’s body crashing into the top of his tower below her, sending a shimmer spray of gold debris into the air. She realizes that for the first time in her life that she can remember, she is free of her youthful vow. Not only is she free, but the whole of Draal’s Claim is now free.
As she drifts slowly towards the ground, Liza has time to wonder what will happen now. Will the other dragons come and avenge their fallen brother? She does not suppose so, as there was famously no love lost between Draal and his draconic brethren, and had a habit of publicly referring to them as “losers” who were jealous of his success despite the fact that other dragon-ruled lands are generally run much more smoothly than Draal’s Claim.
There is every chance that the other dragons will let the humans rule themselves again, which doesn’t mean that things will suddenly become a utopia, Liza knows that. Freedom is not free; there will be struggle, there will be fighting, there will probably even be blood, but there was all of that under the weight of Draal’s talon.
This feeling of freedom makes her more anxious than her mission to kill Draak ever did.
She wants to throw up.
I think I covered all of that at the beginning. It's not like you're here to just see me ramble, right?